- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 31, 2005

Some fierce lightning at Merriweather Post Pavilion Wednesday night must have poked a wormhole in the space-time fabric, a la “Back to the Future,” as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and the Black Crowes showed little awareness that a new century has dawned.

I say “little” because Crowes frontman Chris Robinson shared his theory of the (for him, lamentable) decline of pot-smoking at concerts, which he said has been replaced by the newfangled — and possibly cancer-causing — pastime of chatting on cell phones and taking digital photos.

The capacity crowd was old enough not to care about rock ‘n’ roll epochs or subtle put-downs from Mr. Robinson. It happily slid through the wormhole to boogie to Petty classics such as “Breakdown,” “Don’t Do Me Like That” and “Refugee,” as well as Crowes faves such as “Twice as Hard” and “Remedy.”

After a four-year break from filial infighting, during which singer Chris Robinson and younger guitarist brother Rich Robinson both pursued solo careers, the duo re-formed the Crowes earlier this year, beginning with a series of small club dates billed under the alias Mr. Crowes Garden (the band’s original name, by the way) and then finally with a triumphant seven-night stand at New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom.

In their current slot as opening band for Mr. Petty, the Crowes have tried to reintroduce themselves on a larger scale. And, having rehired doodle-happy guitarist Marc Ford, whom the Robinsons fired in the late ‘90s due to drug abuse and erratic playing, the Crowes are once again wearing the neo-hippie jam-band cloak (maybe poncho is the more appropriate term).

With the exception of a new cover of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Pre-Road Downs” and a tune from their most recent studio album (2001’s “Lions”), the Crowes’ playlist was of mid-‘90s vintage. Following the cautionary narcissism tale “One Mirror Too Many,” the trippy “Cosmic Friend” and the Stonesy “Thick N’ Thin,” the Crowes settled into the expansive suite of “Ballad in Urgency,” with keyboardist Eddie Harsch replicating the sinuous piano interlude that connects the song to “Wiser Time.” A redemptive, and also very lengthy, “My Morning Song” was given a lift by a pair of female gospel singers, who managed to cut through the powerful double-blast of guitarists Mr. Ford and Mr. Robinson.

Seen as a holding pattern rather than a novel phase of their 15-year career, the Crowes’ performance Wednesday was better than sturdy, and occasionally transcendent.

Mr. Petty and the Heartbreakers were late arriving — they were in a literal holding pattern, as bad weather held up their flight out of New York City.

Despite not having released an album since 2002’s down-the-memory-hole “The Last DJ,” Mr. Petty, 54, has been a hot ticket this summer. It’s no wonder: His set (truncated to 90 minutes due to the late start) mixed jangly old nuggets such as “Listen to Her Heart” and “American Girl” with later, but no less potent, singles such as the post-September 11 resurgent “I Won’t Back Down,” “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” “You Don’t Know How it Feels,” “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and the beloved San Fernando Valley ode “Free Fallin’.”

Mr. Petty, along with ace veteran band mates like keyboardist Benmont Tench and lead guitarist Mike Campbell, rounded out Heartbreaker hits with spirited covers of the Animals’ “I’m Crying,” Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” plus “Handle with Care” from Petty supergroup side project the Traveling Wilburys and a jammy new song, “Turn This Car Around.”

“The Last DJ” was a semi-concept (and only semi-successful) album that conveyed Mr. Petty’s angst over the state of rock, which he sees as an increasingly corporatized venture that has less and less to do with music, and more and more to do with entertaining fat-cat clients.

The corporate types and fat cats evidently didn’t make it down the wormhole Wednesday night; everyone, youngish and oldish, let their rock flags fly. Either that, or Mr. Moneybags isn’t as fusty as we all thought.

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